Why ‘tweakers’ have an advantage

Forget the first-mover advantage. Arriv­ing late to the game is much more criti­cal to creating a successful product or business, says Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink.

Examples of being first vs. being the best:

•  Xerox was the first to put enormous amounts of time and money behind developing a personal computer, but Apple created a machine that was more consumer friendly and cheaper.

•  Though Friendster and MySpace were the first to have a foothold into social-networking, Facebook moved in and became the dominant player.

•  Remember AltaVista and Lycos? They were once popular portals, but Google’s search engine now rules over the competition.

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All are examples of first-out-of-the-gate products and services that paved the way for trailers who improved upon the ideas—and won big.

“You don’t have to be an innovator to be a good entrepreneur,” says Gladwell. “You can take something and make it better.”

Any follower can learn from the mistakes of others. They benefit from seeing the flaws of the first iteration, then tweaking their own products to put themselves ahead.

Even the much-applauded Google co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, aren’t “breakthrough guys,” says Gladwell. “They’re tweakers.”

Yet another tweaker, says Gladwell, is Apple CEO Steve Jobs. When he launched Apple’s smartphone and MP3 player, there already were such products on the market.

“This is a man who has made a business out of being late,” he says.

Bottom line: Being tardy could be beneficial to your bottom line. “The last to the party can be the most successful,” Gladwell says.

— Adapted from “Malcolm Gladwell advocates being late,” Laura Petrecca, USA Today.